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I was lucky enough to see this movie on the big screen, with a full house, and it was a wonderful experience. The audience was completely enthralled, to the point of yelling out worried instructions to the onscreen characters. The acting in this film is very high-quality, and the pacing effective. I thought the footage of San Francisco (where I saw the film) was beautifully done; it really evokes the Telegraph Hill area. The director made particularly good use of the hills, as you'll see. If you like elegant suspense films like "Gaslight" and "Suspicion", you'll enjoy this one. Valentina Cortese is a very appealing heroine, and the story was made more interesting by the WWII element. The only thing I had a problem with was the fact that the two leading men looked too much alike. But that was a minor flaw in a very well-made film.
About 10-15 minutes into the film there is a segment showing emmigrants
filing into a ship to leave to America.
My parents (unknown to them until two years later) got their 15 seconds of fame. They're the man carrying an infant (me, face down-I wasn't ready for my cameo) and the woman with glasses carying two suitcases.
The ship was the SS Marine-Jumper (pretty odd name) which left Hamburg, and it arrived in New York on July 7th 1949.
The crossing was uneventful except that my mother told me she was angry with the sailors for playing catch with an orange. She hadn't eaten one since 1940.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Some Spoilers) Having survived the war in the Nazi concentration camp
of Belsen Victoria Kowelska, Valentina Contese, is determined to start
a new life in America. Having befriended a fellow Polish woman at the
camp the frail Karin Dernakova, Natasha Lytess, Victoria did everything
to keep Karin's hopes high in order for her to survive. Poor Karin
feeling that she has nothing to live for quietly passed away just days
before Belsen was liberated, on April 15 1945, by the British Army.
It turned out that Victoria got possession to the deceased Karin's papers, that she secretly kept on her, that included a photo of her son Chris, Gordon Gebert. Karin had Chris smuggled out, with the help of the Polish Resistance, of Poland in 1941 when he was just a baby. Taking Karin's identity as well as identity papers Victoria convinces the US Military authorities in occupied Germany that she's in fact Karin Dernakova who's only living relative, besides young Chris, is the wealthy San Francisco socialite Mrs. Sophie Dernakova Albertson.
Going through the red tape of getting clearance to immigrate to the United States Victoria, now legally Karin Dernakova, finally makes it to America. It's in New York City that Victoria find's out from the Albertson family lawyer Marc Bennett (William Lundigan), who incidentally as a member of the US Army processed her back in Germany, that Aunt Sophie passed away on May 31, 1945 just six weeks after Victoria was liberated from Belsen!
Finally getting to her late Sophie's specious mansion on San Francisco's famous Telegraph Hill Victoria not only meets her long lost "son" Chris but his both guardian Alan Spender, Richard Basehat, and extremely possessive nanny Margret, Fay Baker. Alan who at first resented Victoria feeling that she's getting in the way of both his adopted son Chris and the late Aunt Sophie's money later falls in love with her. Alan admires how she, in Victoria's steadfast and iron determination, resembled his favorite, by marriage, Aunt Sophie.
It isn't long that a by now love-struck Alan proposes to Victoria who, in being married to Alan will make her an immediate American citizen, readily accepts. It's later that Victoria starts to sense that there's something rotten in Telegraph Hill in that someone, in a number of suspicious near-fatal accidents that soon followed,is not only trying to do her but young Chris in!
Tension packed final as a terrified Victoria alone, together with little Chris, and cut off from communicating with the outside world is stalked by her wannabe murderer who's been meticulously planning to do her in ever since she showed up at Aunt Sophie's mansion. ***SPOILER ALERT*** In what has to be one of the longest and suffocating death scene in motion picture history the would be murderer of both Victoria and Chris slowly chokes to death on the very "witchs brew" that he secretly concocted for her.
Gasping for both air and dear life the killer, who it turns out murdered Aunt Sophie, turns both blue and drops to room temperature as Victoria desperately tries to get help. Something he would never think of doing for her if the circumstances were reversed!
Valentina Cortese and Richard Basehart star in "The House on Telegraph
Hill," a 1951 film also starring William Lundigan. It's probable that
Cortese and Basehart met during the filming of this movie, since they
were married in March of 1951. Cortese plays a concentration camp
survivor, Victoria Kowelska, who takes the identity of her dead friend
and travels to San Francisco to claim the woman's son, who is living
with an aunt, and also her inheritance. When she arrives, the aunt is
deceased,and the boy is being cared for by a snippy nanny (Fay Baker).
Victoria and the estate's trustee (Basehart) fall in love, marry, and
live in the aunt's mansion. It soon becomes apparent from a series of
mishaps that someone is trying to do away with Victoria. She finally
confides in the Army officer who processed her papers (Lundigan).
Robert Wise does a good job with this suspenser, which combines some diverse elements - hidden identity, romance, shady nanny and a murder plot - though the script isn't the best. It drags in spots. Cortese is an effective actress while not being a conventional beauty; her star shone brighter in Italy, where she worked until 1993 and then retired.
"The House on Telegraph Hill" does hold the viewer throughout. It's enjoyable but nothing special.
Perhaps not a noir, strictly but a very effective b/w thriller with great use of San Francisco locations. Valentina Cortesa is excellent and very believable as the lady who makes her way from the concentration camps to the house on Telegraph Hill. Richard Basehart is also very good in a complex role as her husband. But mention must also be made of William Lundigan and the terrifying Fay Baker. Even the kid is acceptable! This is a most involving and atmospheric picture, perhaps with shades of 'Notorious'. Great dialogue helps keep one involved throughout and there are certain scenes, for instance, the orange juice sequence that are positively thrilling. Excellent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The House on Telegraph Hill is a suspense thriller constructed out of some unusual elements. It opens in the shambles of war-torn Europe, where a Displaced Person from Poland (Valentina Cortesa, sometimes "Cortese") has assumed the papers and identity of a close friend who died in the camps. The dead woman had sent her young son to San Francisco to live with a wealthy aunt. Cortesa travels to America to claim the son and, incidentally, the inheritance as her own.
The estate's trustee (Richard Basehart) sweeps her off her feet and soon they're ensconced in the Gothic pile overlooking San Francisco and the Bay. But shades of Rebecca! discord appears in the person of the boy's governess (Fay Baker), a blonde, American Mrs. Danvers (Baker played a hard case opposite Marie Windsor in Double Deal and quite held her own; pity her career wasn't bigger).
Next, frightening things start to happen. Cortesa almost topples to her doom from the son's playhouse, never repaired after a mysterious explosion. And she almost careens into that same doom when her roadster's brakes fail on the steep hills of the city. Finally she reaches out to a acquaintance (William Lundigan) who happens to be the Army officer who processed her papers in Germany.
The surprising Robert Wise has a knack for papering over holes, keeping us from wondering what the one plot the stolen identity has to do with the other the standard-issue woman-in-distress (or `jep'). He builds up an atmosphere of menace but keeps his cards very close to his vest.
Reservations? The House on Telegraph Hill was made when the noir cycle was under full steam, and shares many of its conventions. But the story and acting hark back to a style that's about a decade out of date. So when Cortesa declines some orange juice that she suspects contains poison, the point is pressed, and she graciously downs the whole glass. In post-war America, wouldn't she fling it into a face, or just say `Shove it'?
A woman (Valentina Cortesa) assumes the identity of her more affluent friend who died at the Belsen camp in Germany. However the seemingly ideal life she is about to enter soon beings to have a sinister feel. Is she the only fraud? Reasonable performances from all the leads keeps the storyline, which never quite reaches its potential, interesting. The film also lead to the marriage of Valentina Cortesa to her co-star Richard Basehart - a chemistry not readily apparent in the film!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've seen this kind of story many times: the frightened wife fearing
her husband was going to kill her, most people not believing this, and
a dramatic ending in the final minutes after long, drawn-out scenes
building suspense. For you classic film buffs, this should sound
The problem is that - at least with today's audiences - that drawn-out suspense on will-or-will-he and how? - the story is way too slow. It's like, "Okay, we get the setup here. Now how about something actually happening?" Nothing much did until the final minutes, with the exception of a very short automobile scene.
The first part is the most interesting, when we see how the "heroine" of the story, "Victoria Kowelska" (Valentina Cortese) makes it to America to take the place of another woman in San Francisco. She was interesting, to me, only because she was a new face, sometime I don't recall seeing before on film. Most of her fine film career has been done in Italy.
I did enjoy the two main male actors, too, Richard Basehart and William Lundigan, but they were nothing super, playing routine roles. The set designs with the big house on Telegraph Road were nice. It was another of those big old mansions in which these kind of stories always took place in the 1940s films. Great lighting always makes these houses, with the long stairways, look Gothic and foreboding, especially in black-and-white photography.
For those who see the title and read the "previews" and thus, are excepting more of a film noir, or even a thriller with horror overtones, consider yourself warned. Instead, it's more of a women's film and a stereotypical one, at that. It's okay, but nothing memorable.
Effective Gothic thriller. I especially like the set-up, where Vicki
(Cortese) gains admittance to the US by impersonating a dead fellow
prisoner in a WWII concentration camp . That way she not only has her
own secrets, but is also no unblemished young thing, which is usually
the case in these woman-in-danger films. Once in the US, however, she
marries into great wealtha dream come truebut in the process gets
more than she bargained for.
A lot of the story depends on appropriate emoting. Fortunately, it's a powerhouse cast, but I especially like Fay Baker's icy nanny Margaret. She's quietly intimidating without overdoing it. Too bad she didn't get bigger roles in more movies. I can't help noting, however, that Cortese may be the only Hollywood leading lady without a perfect nose. It's a fine regal beak and I'm glad she hung on to it. I can also see why Basehart fell for her in real life.
The San Francisco locations make a good open air contrast to the dark mansion interiors that dominate the characters. I expect director Wise applied his noir skills from the great Val Lewton series of horror flicks. Also, the ending amounts to a delicious twist, both unpredictable and very well thought out. My one problem was figuring out who's related to whom since that's important to the plot. I don't know if that's the screenplay's fault or mine.
Anyway, it's an effective thriller with a fine cast and an imaginative ending, worth tuning in for.
This movie begins a little like William Irish's aka Cornell Woolrich's
" I married a dead man " (the novel was released well before Leisen's
movie ,in 1948),the concentration camps replacing the derailment:and
then a poor girl becomes an impostor in a wealthy family;then after
introducing a Rebeccaesque governess,the story takes a divergent turn
,recalling sometimes "gaslight" "suspicion" (the glass of orange juice
replacing the glass of milk) and "sudden fear" which would be released
the following year.
That said,the movie is good,suspenseful,sometimes excellent and shows how great Robert Wise is as a director when he creates a disturbing atmosphere in an old house;he would take his skill to its absolute perfection with "the haunting" (1963) IMHO the best movie ever made about a haunted house (the remake should be carefully avoided);his talent emerges here and there: the playhouse where a wall is missing,the branch behind the curtain,the shadow on Valentina Cortese's white dress in the garage and the picture of the late old lady who seems like a judge beyond the grave ;her expressive face seems to have changed in the last pictures .Best performance comes from Richard Baseheart who shines in his last minutes on screen and the rest of the cast rises to the occasion.
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